Things you missed in Taylor Swift’s new Cardigan video

It’s easy to get caught up in the wistful, haunting mood of Taylor Swift’s new “Cardigan” video, which was written and produced in pandemic conditions and released last night on her new album Folklore as a sort of surprise gift to fans. This track has all the feelings, and there’s a thrill to losing yourself in the vivid, dream-like images of a piano that mysteriously moves from a cozy room in a dark house, to a verdant, waterfall-filled forest, to an ocean in the rain. It’s actually the most subtle details in this video, though, that suggest the richest layers of meaning we can take from Swift’s track.

“There’s a real mix of hidden meanings and Easter eggs,” observed YouTuber Lauren Taylor TV, noting the repetition of the number 13 throughout the video; this is well-known to be Taylor’s favorite number. She also said that Taylor makes multiple references to previous songs and that the whole video is a nod to ex Harry Styles’ “Falling” video, which also features a piano.

The contrast between lyrics and imagery in Cardigan

One of the most interesting techniques of “Cardigan” is the contrast between what you are seeing and what you are hearing. The opening lines suggest a glamorous memory — “vintage tee, brand new phone, high heels on cobblestones,” and “sequined smile, black lipstick, sensual politics,” but these words are are juxtaposed against imagery of a dirty and broken piano — with a broken B note, Lauren Taylor TV notes — that Taylor is playing in a dingy room, with un-manicured fingernails. With so many of us watching this video from our own isolated rooms, this longing for younger, more carefree days, is all the more relatable.

Similarly, the refrain, “When you are young, they assume you know nothing,” is repeated throughout the song, but the footage, particularly of the cottage or attic in which much of the video is set, is not only old, it’s practically decrepit. The paintings also evoke another era, the old-fashioned clocks speak to a pre-digital time, and there is a sepia photo on the wall that shows a gentleman dressed in Civil War-era attire. Is this contrast a deliberate technique, suggesting that Taylor and her former lover are old souls? 

The piano may be symbolic of Pandora's Box

Most of us are familiar with the Greek myth of Pandora’s box, in which a little girl, thought to be the first woman on earth, defied the gods by opening a box she was told to leave alone; Zeus retaliated by unleashing illness and hardships that the whole world consequently suffered (per Greek Myths & Greek Mythology). There are three scenes in “Cardigan” when Taylor lifts either the piano bench or the piano itself, and as a result, releases a whole new world, just like Pandora. The lyrics of the song, meanwhile, refer to actions that can’t be taken back; the ex-lover she sings of “Marked me like a bloodstain.”  Swift says to him, “I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss/ I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs.” In the last scene of the song, Taylor climbs through that piano one last time, drenched and shaking, and waiting for her this time is the cardigan she sings of. A close look at this weathered-looking sweater shows embroidered stars, a reference to the line, “You drew stars around my scars/But now I’m bleedin’.” 

And yet, like seeing a familiar lover after being alone in a crisis, the cardigan is there for her. Nothing that escaped Pandora’s box can be taken back, but there is comfort in knowing that familiarity may be waiting for us all at the end of our own proverbial storm in the ocean — a token of hope Taylor has sent her fans. 

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